A popular restaurant chain is investigating after a British-Bangladeshi woman and a British-Pakistani man believe they were victims of "racial profiling" while being refused a table.
Dr Fatima Rajina and Nasar Rahman wanted to have lunch at Cote Brasserie in Welwyn Garden City, near St Albans, on Sunday afternoon but said they were told by staff that it was "reservations only" despite there being empty tables.
The chain denied there was a policy of refusing tables for any reason except when a restaurant is fully booked and said it was taking the allegation "very seriously".
Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Rahman, from Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, said: "The man at the door looked me up and down really distastefully, and I found it rude.
"There were lots of empty tables for two but he insisted they were fully booked.
"We went outside and Fatima said we had just been victims of racial profiling.
"I couldn't believe that would be the case in 2018 but I phoned the restaurant to see if I could get a table if I put on a white-sounding voice.
"Straight away, the woman on the phone said they had tables free and we should come within five minutes."
Mr Rahman, 28, then challenged the woman as to why he was refused a table just minutes earlier and asked if it was to do with his race. He said that the woman just hung up.
Dr Rajina, a teaching fellow at SOAS, said she felt angry and upset by what happened.
"Both of us felt a mix of emotions: upset, angry and a deep sense of not being welcome because of our racial/ethnic backgrounds," she said.
"I have experienced this before but it was the first time my friend experienced something like this.
"The incident reminded me of the famous signs from the '80s 'No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs' just it was invisible yesterday."
This is not the first time Dr Rajina has been discriminated against because of the colour of her skin.
"It has happened on other occasions in cafes and restaurants, but these were a few years ago," the 30-year-old, from Luton, Bedfordshire, said.
A spokesman for Cote said: "We are aware of the incident and managing it directly with the guest.
"Yesterday, on Mother's Day, we had our busiest day ever, serving a record number of guests.
"It was regrettable that being so busy we had to turn away a number of people who had not made a booking.
"We are saddened to hear that someone who was turned away felt dissatisfied as a result.
"At Côte Brasserie we are proud to be an equal rights employer, counting over 120 nationalities amongst our team members.
"We have a strict zero tolerance policy against any form of discrimination, whether it be amongst our team or towards our guests.
"We strongly deny that there is a policy to refuse guests a table on any basis other than the restaurant being full.
"As such, we are taking this allegation very seriously and have also reached out to the guest in question to discuss the matter further."